Near Field Communication: A Threat to QR Codes?

Posted by: Nicholas M. Roberts

QR codes are great because anyone can use them. Companies can print them in mass quantities. It’s cheap advertising, and the excitement of scanning the codes does the job promoting so the marketing teams don’t have to. Likewise, QR codes are also a threat to companies for the same reason.

Denso Wave has dominated an industry by waiving their patent privileges and allowing use and duplication of their technology free of charge. Some companies are entering the same game, competing with QR codes and they are standing behind their patent. In fact, that’s the whole point. Most companies use QR codes to make money, but the biggest ones want to make money off the technology itself.

A while back I discussed [MS Tags]. I would consider Microsoft’s alternative more emulation than anything else. Yes, it is different technology, but at its heart it functions in just the same way as QR codes. They’re both 2D barcodes. The process – the scanning – it’s the same. QR codes and MS Tags are like Chrome and Firefox: the layout might be different but it all leads to the same Internet.

Now a new challenger approaches: Near Field Communication.

On one hand NFC is different. It doesn’t involve 2D barcodes, or any sort of barcode for that matter. It is in fact a completely separate technology. It requires a smartphone with a special chip that will activate when it senses an NFC tag. On the other hand, NFC is very much the same. It will still bring the phone to a website or display text. It doesn’t offer new opportunity.

With NFC, the automation is its benefit, but it has one major flaw that cannot, and is certainly not being overlooked. That flaw is proximity. Currently, a device with an NFC chip needs to be as close as four centimeters from a NFC tag. For this reason I believe that NFC is too inaccessible for consumers at this time. No matter what, it is based on proximity. A QR code can be read from quite a distance if it’s big enough, but NFC won’t be built into billboards any time soon.

NFC has another major flaw and it is that too few phones have the NFC chip. Sure, many of the newest models are being built with the chip, but we don’t all go out and buy a new phone every couple of months. It will be some time before enough people have phones with NFC chips to make the technology take off – and how can we know if it will even survive that long?

Finally, what company wants to spend money embedding chips into every promotional advertisement when they could just print out a QR code for free?

Who will win this war? QR Scotland says QR will, while Quora feels that NFC will supersede them and Adfusion takes the good old-fashioned middle ground. The right answer I cannot determine, but the best answer I think I’ve found.

Clove Media has developed a hybrid NFC/QR code! At first glance you will see a QR code, but when it is approached with a phone equipped with NFC technology, the phone will respond to NFC first. To Clove Media, it doesn’t matter who emerges from the battle. They are concerned for the smaller companies and for the consumer. They are providing these parties with all of the resources they need to thrive in a world with a split audience. Who knows, maybe these two technologies will begin to blend some more in the future.

If you’re looking for more technical information, some extensive research on NFC can be accessed here.